What did Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Ross of Fort Wayne do after he got home from his latest deployment in the Middle East in July?
He went to Walt Disney World with his family, which includes wife Kim; daughters Kylie, 18, and Mikala, 15 and son Brennan, 13.
“Loved every minute of it,” he said. “Just being with my family.”
But Saturday morning, the 46-year-old again put on his fatigues to honor his fellow veterans as a flag bearer with the Indiana Patriot Guard.
The volunteer group lined Parnell Avenue just south of St. Joe River Drive to honor past and present members of the military with a 21-flag salute during Fort Wayne’s annual Veterans Day parade.
“They called and asked if I’d hold a flag for them,” Ross said. “I said, ‘Sure.’ All the work they do for us, it’s the least we could do for them. These guys do an incredible mission.”
Many in attendance at the parade felt the same way about veterans as the half-hour-long string of motorcycles, military support groups, classic Corvettes and law enforcement units proceeded north on Parnell from East State Boulevard to Memorial Coliseum.
Phil Beck of Huntington came out to salute his son, Andrew Beck, 40, a former Fort Wayne police officer, now a Marine stationed in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s something I need to do to support the men and women who have served and lost their lives,” he said.
Mike Fretz, 42, of Fort Wayne, an organizer of the salute, said Patriot Guard members attend send-offs and welcome-home ceremonies.
They also participate in funerals when invited by members of the immediate family of those killed in action.
In the last year, there have been about a dozen Indiana residents killed in combat or training accidents, Fretz said.
Four were killed at one time when an improvised explosive device, or IED, destroyed a vehicle in which they were riding, he said.
“It’s been a pretty busy year for us,” said Fretz, who added that Patriot Guard members also send care packages and letters to those in the service and attend funerals of police, firefighters and emergency responders.
After the parade, about 130 people gathered in the Coliseum’s Memorial Hall for ceremonial wreath layings, the traditional singing of “God Bless the U.S.A.” and remarks by Col. David Augustine, commander of the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard. The wing is stationed at Fort Wayne International Airport.
Augustine asked veterans of various conflicts to stand and be acknowledged. Most served during the Vietnam War or post-Desert Storm eras, with a handful having served during the Korean War.
Fred Domrow of Fort Wayne was the lone World War II veteran to stand. Now 86, Domrow said he was an Army private when he was wounded during a struggle in the Elbe River Valley in the European theater, earning him a Purple Heart.
The Hoosier State “has no shortage of heroes,” Augustine said.
“Our veterans have borne the costs of all our wars. Today, you can be sure that the people you served are very, very grateful.”